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New York’s Catch-All Contraband and Anti-Smuggling Rules Unconstitutionally Vague
In April 2000, while conducting random cell searches, Woodbourne Correctional Facility officers found copies of a 21-page booklet entitled The Politics of Parole: An Analysis by the Woodbourne Long Termers Committee. Farid, a member of the Long Termers Committee (LTC), was subsequently charged with violating prison rules governing contraband and smuggling in connection with distributing the booklet. Following a Tier III disciplinary hearing, Farid was found guilty, lost three months of good time credits and was confined to a Security Housing Unit for 90 days.
In September 2001, Farid filed a § 1983 complaint alleging various constitutional and state law violations. In a pub-lished opinion, Farid v. Ellen, 514 F.Supp.2d 482 (S.D.N.Y. 2007), the district court addressed his First Amendment claims, found the prison’s catch-all contraband and anti-smuggling rules to be unconstitutionally vague, and ordered rein-statement of Farid’s lost good time credits and expungement of the violation from his disciplinary record. Concluding the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity, however, the district court denied Farid any monetary damages.
On appeal, the Second Circuit upheld all of the district court’s findings except the qualified immunity determination. Central to the Court’s analysis was the fact that the defendants had testified the pamphlet in question was not contraband per se but rather it purported to be an official LTC publication, which it was not (because it had not been approved by the group’s advisor). Conceding that Farid could have been sanctioned for violating LTC’s by-laws, the appellate court stressed that nothing in those by-laws permitted a sanction more severe than expulsion from the group.
The Second Circuit rejected the defendants’ argument that, in effect, Farid was required “to engage in some kind of interpretive construction, combining the LTC’s bylaws with the prison rules in order to determine whether materials that violate the former might at the will of prison officials be read to constitute contraband under the latter.” The case was re-manded to the district court for further proceedings. See: Farid v. Ellen, 593 F.3d 233 (2d Cir. 2010).
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Related legal case
Farid v. Ellen
|Cite||593 F.3d 233 (2d Cir. 2010)|
|Level||Court of Appeals|